Neither Here Nor There
As I near the completion of my active treatment for cancer, I often think of what others call the landmarks and milestones I reached and passed. The biopsies, surgeries, the chemotherapy, the hair loss, the reconstruction, the PET scans, the follow ups, the blood work, the hair re-growth. It sounds as if I walked around the Earth but yet, strangely, I feel unmoved, immobile, even paralyzed.
I feel like I have not moved an inch but yet I do not belong to the world before cancer either. I am not involved in cancer awareness campaigns; I did not start some awe inspiring project to thumb my nose at cancer. I am not the upbeat face from the pink ribbon movements. I hate running and I don’t do walks or runs or whatever to cure cancer.
I am also not a terminal case where doctors scramble to do whatever they can to prolong the life. Youtube videos of my last days won’t make the viral status, I won’t be featured posthumously in some documentary where everyone would say what a wonderful human being I was.
I am an average, boring, cancer patient, like so many by my side. I blend into the grey ranks of the survivors but yet no one can guarantee me life. I am expected to move on with my life but no one has answers to my what ifs. People ask how I am and their eyes glaze over when I say anything else but I’m fine.
How could I explain to a healthy human being what it’s like to have the basic existential assumption of life shaken and shattered into pieces? How could I explain that I measure my life not by when Christmas is or which Thursday Thanksgiving will be on, but by the PET scan dates and blood work result appointments?
How could I explain that it feels like my body is the enemy that I must pacify with meticulous nutrition and avoidance of any potentially harmful substances? How could I explain that I lay awake at night or stare in space during the day wondering how much time I really have. How could I explain that planning more than a few months in advance seems futile to me.
All it takes is one scan. One bad scan and I would be back where I was two years ago or one year ago. How can I possibly explain what it’s like to teeter on this razor thin fence, not ever knowing if a gust of wind will blow me over to the bad side.
People would tell me to try to forget about it and move on . They would say live your life and don’t worry. But that’s like saying to a hostage to forget about her previous life and enjoy her current cell. Move on from what you want and enjoy the few items the captors left in your vicinity. Live your life looking through the bars on the windows. Don’t worry, they won’t kill you right away.
People would say to have faith or to hope for the best. I gave up on that a long time ago. It got me nowhere and as I watch the news from around the world, it gets other people nowhere as well. Hope is an empty word. It’s like a pink sheath I am forced to look at the world with but yet I know what’s behind that curtain.
So where do I go? I can’t go back, I am not who I was two years ago. I don’t know who I am now. I know who I am supposed to be according to healthy people, according to the media, according to the popular image of a cancer survivor. But that’s not who I am.
I am a person who is afraid that one day the cancers come back. I am a person who lost a lot of self esteem. I am a person with a lot of doubt. I am a person who cries a lot more often now. I am a person who is a lot more cynical. I am a person who has to fake smiles even more now in front of others to appear normal. I am a person standing on a road that no longer has a few clear forks and turns. Instead, it has an infinite number of paths, some paved, some gravelly, some just plain dirt. Some extend to the horizon and some end as soon as they start.
So where will I go? I have no idea which path I will walk on. I take a step and the ground morphs under my feet. I no longer have a free will and a choice. It is being made for me by my captor.